Eve Ponderings

Did Eve come to realize just how badly her choice turned out when she chose to sin in the Garden? Did she realize what she had done soon after it happened and wish she could fix it somehow? To get a mulligan, to have a second chance, to undo her sin. I can almost hear Eve pleading with God – “No, make it stop! I didn’t mean for all this to happen! This isn’t what I expected.”

Bible-adam-and-eve

Imagine the guilt she felt those first sleepless nights alone with Adam – outside of the Garden. Wondering if their relationship with God could be restored to even a semblance of what it had once been. Wondering what her relationship with Adam was going to be like now. Still hurt because he had blamed her.

 

I have observed that when a son dies, his mother is crushed. Should a mother discover that her son is a murderer, she is devastated. For Eve, to have her son murder his brother must have been insufferable. When they found Abel’s body, it may be that he was the first human being to have physically died. What would it have been like to hold a lifeless body when no one had ever done so before? How long did it take her to realize that Abel would never talk or eat or be with them again? Only now did Adam and Eve and their offspring begin to understand the depth of the curse of death. No one could comfort Eve with words –  because no one had ever before tasted the gall of death like Eve did on that day.

What great grief Eve must have carried with her being aware that her suffering and sorrow were caused by her own actions. Eve, more than any other, bore the burden of her sons’ fates because of her own past actions. Death became reality because of that one fateful choice she made years earlier.

As Eve lived and had more children, how did her heart cope with all the pain she saw in her ever-growing family. She and Adam had known a perfect world with no pain, no sorrow, no loss. She lost a world where she had been continually walking rightly with God. She lost the life where her heart had still been pure. Now she saw her children and grandchildren, all broken and flailing because of sin.

Can you imagine if Eve were still alive today? Since the Fall, the world has seen war, disease, disasters, murder, torture, genocide – evil upon evil. And Eve would know deep in her heart that it was all because of her choice made oh so long ago. She chose to experience something new, to look for excitement, to try out her own wings. She chose to listen to bad counsel. She chose to disobey God. And all humanity has been under the weight of sin and sorrow ever since.

When we get to heaven, I imagine that God must lift some of the burden of our memories; of the knowledge of the consequences of our sin on others around us. When I think back on my life, I cannot shake the burden of knowing how often I failed. I failed as a parent, as a son and brother, as a husband. There are so many bad choices that I cannot go back and fix. I cannot fathom how Eve could possibly bear the full knowledge of how her selfish choice played out in the millennia that followed.

We know that God sees all the evil in the world, but to a much deeper extent and intimacy than Eve ever could. Eve can see world history and how mankind has ruined itself and our world. But God sees into each human heart and knows each thought. Those of us who appear to be “good” people all still have evil thoughts. We still do “good” things but for the wrong reasons – how this must be repugnant to God. He knows the conniving of both the good and the evil. How we must be a stench to Him – a stench that would make us retch and vomit.

And yet –  He loves his people. He knows and cares for each human being that lives today – all 7 billion of us – and everyone who lived before us. And each individual who is yet to be born. He chose an extremely personal and painful way to make a way for us to be cleaned up and reformed and totally restored. He chose to take the burden of all the evil that men and women have done to one another upon himself. He took the punishment that was due to us, but also the guilt and the shame and the self-loathing. He embraced us who were and are utterly revolting. He tenderly cared for us when He should have turned and run to abandon us to our own fate. He did this when He should have been utterly contemptuous and disgusted with us.

As in the Garden, God is giving each human being a choice. The choice in the Garden was whether to trust God, to hold firmly to the truth when tempted to doubt, to continue to obey when disobedience looked more attractive. Today, God gives us the choice of whether to trust the sufficiency of Jesus’ sacrifice. We are given the choice to grasp this truth, to learn to trust Him when we struggle and doubt, to learn to obey when all within us screams to disobey. He gives us the freedom to choose again. We are free to choose His way of being redeemed.

For me, this is proof of God’s infinity. No finite love could ever love the filthy lot of deranged scoundrels that we are. Only an infinite love could be so inexhaustible that it could love the totally unlovable people that we have become. Only infinite creativity could have devised a plan this fantastical. He devised a way to restore us who were ruined and revolting and make us desirable and yes, even beautiful.

As we who trust Jesus stand today, we have one foot in the unfathomable depth of sin and one foot in the incomparable glory of heaven. We struggle as we are pulled from both sides. But one day, we will step through. We will firmly plant both feet in heaven. And the God who had every reason to reject and destroy us will actually allow us to live in his presence for the rest of eternity. He will transform us into glorious beings that are restored to that original purity that Adam and Eve knew before they put their wills ahead of God’s.

What other god that any person has ever devised and worshiped could even come close to what our God has done for us? Praise him forever!

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Dr. Who Evangelism

Dr. Who is not a Christian show. But once in a while I tune in because it is extremely imaginative and creative. Not your average sit-com by any stretch of the imagination.

Here’s the set-up: Clara’s boyfriend, Danny, whom she loves greatly has been killed in a car accident. Clara has been grieving for weeks. The Doctor calls and Clara gathers all the hidden keys to the Tardis (a time machine) to force the Doctor to go back in time and prevent Danny from dying. The Doctor refuses and Clara destroys the keys, so the Doctor can never enter the Tardis again. Both Clara and the Doctor will die stranded in a strange time and land. Then we discover that the Doctor has been letting Clara’s thoughts play out in her mind, but not in reality. But this betrayal is what she really would have done.

Dr Who – Season 8 Episode 11 – Dark Water – About 13:34

Clara:    What now? What do we do now? You and me? What do we do? . . . Doctor?

Doctor: Go to hell.

Clara:    Fair enough. Absolutely fair enough. (starts to leave)

Doctor: Clara? You asked me what we’re going to do. I told you. We’re going to hell. Or wherever it is people go when they die, if there is anywhere. Where ever it is, we’re going to find Danny. And if it is any way possible, we’re gonna bring him home.
Almost every culture in the universe has some concept of an afterlife. I always meant to have a look around to see if I could find one.

Clara:    You’re going to help me…

Doctor: Well, why wouldn’t I help you?

Clara:    Because of what I just did, I just. . .

Doctor:  You betrayed me. You betrayed my trust. You betrayed our friendship. You betrayed everything I ever stood for! (shouts) You let me down!

Clara:    Then why are you helping me?

Doctor: Why? Do you think I care for you so little that betraying me would make a difference?

This exchange between Clara and the Doctor shows so well what love and forgiveness in Jesus really look like. In the allegory here, for just a couple minutes, Clara represents all of fallen humanity and the Doctor represents the Christ.

When I sin, I am betraying the trust Jesus has placed in me to be the light of the world. He is not here physically like he was 2000 years ago and he trusts me, and all of us, to represent him. I betray his trust. I betray my friendship with him. I act in ways that totally contradict everything my mind knows is right and true…

Yet – Jesus. Still. Loves. Me.

There is nothing in the world He has created that can ever separate me from the love of Jesus. Neither life, nor death, nor principality, things present or things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation shall be able to separate us from the love of God. And if none of those awesome, powerful things can separate me, why should I imagine that just weak, simple, small me should be able to?

Jesus loves me, this I KNOW.

Christmas is for Children – meditations on John 1

“In the beginning was the Word.
The Word was with God,
and the Word was God.
He existed in the beginning with God.
God created everything through him,
and nothing was created except through him.
The Word gave life to everything that was created,
and his life brought light to everyone.
The light shines in the darkness,
and the darkness can never extinguish it.

He came into the very world he created, but the world didn’t recognize him. He came to his own people, and even they rejected him. But to all who believed him and accepted him, he gave the right to become children of God. They are reborn—not with a physical birth resulting from human passion or plan, but a birth that comes from God.


So the Word became human and made his home among us. He was full of unfailing love and faithfulness. And we have seen his glory, the glory of the Father’s one and only Son.


God’s unfailing love and faithfulness came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God. But the unique One, who is himself God, is near to the Father’s heart. He has revealed God to us.”

Christmas is for children – I’ve heard that said many times. Picture the wonder and excitement of children as they anticipate the bountiful gifts that will be given to them. Their shining faces and their bright eyes. The stringing of Christmas lights, getting out decorations, and the joyous event – helping to decorate the Christmas tree! Think of the delight of children helping to bake and decorate Christmas cookies. That seemingly endless supply of cookies, candy canes, fudge; it sometimes seems like Christmas is one giant sugar high for children!

But, what is Christmas really? Christmas is, in essence, a gift exchange, but on a much higher level.

The Word. The One who was fully God and yet His own person, chose to give Himself to make all of who God is known to the likes of you and me. The Word, in order to reach us, resolved to become one of us, but how to do that? The Word could have come in glory, with the splendor of thousands of angels blaring trumpets, announcing His entry. He could have come in majesty as the son of the most powerful king on earth. He could have come in power and simply overcome all nations. And how long would He stay? The Word could come and make a quick inspection, with a few suggestions on how we could improve. Or He could come for a friendly visit, spend some “quality time” with us and then be on His way.

But, no, none of that would do. The Word resolved that He must fully identify with us if He were to come at all. He must come to dwell with us, to stay for a lifetime. So he chose to start as we all do. The Word became a tiny, little embryo, embraced by the womb of a young woman. He grew within her, and was born, just like each one of us.

And with that birth the Word became Jesus, born in Bethlehem, the son of Joseph; later to be called the Christ, the Anointed One of God. He chose to be born in humble circumstances, in a tiny, forgotten nation, to a people known to worship the only true God.

So God gave us Jesus as a baby in a manger, so Jesus could give his life for us as a Savior.

Now, when God gave us Jesus, what was heaven like? The angels murmured. “Jesus, gone to live on earth! But how can heaven be the same if Jesus is – there?”

Every gift that has ever been given is given at a cost. The cost of Jesus becoming man was a temporary, but very real separation of Jesus from the Father and Holy Spirit while he dwelt in a human body. Did the heart of God the Father ache while Jesus was with us in a humble, human body? We may never know for sure.

But we do know that God gave us Jesus as the way for us to have a good relationship with Him. To those who received Him, He gave the right to become, listen carefully, children of God! Christmas IS for children – God’s children! It doesn’t matter if you are 9 or 90, any one of us can be a child of God. And what gift do God’s children get on Christmas? Why, only the best – they get Jesus Himself.

You and I may not have the best the world has to offer, we may not be in the best of circumstances, we may not BE the best of people – but we have been given God’s best – Jesus.

And what does it mean if we have been given Jesus? It means that we have hope. We have God’s promise that we will experience true life – eternal life, with no more sorrow, no more tears. We will share in His victory over death, we will someday no longer struggle with doubt, fear, evil, aging, compulsions; we will be freed to be all that God originally designed us to be.

So Christmas really is for children. Christmas is an intimate gift exchange. We receive the gift of life from God through Jesus. But an exchange requires giving from both parties. What is to be our gift to God? What could we give to God that He would value, that He could even appreciate?

It’s very simple really, when he sent Jesus as a gift to us, he was basically saying “I love you.” What He wants from us is just to hear those four special words:

“I love you, too.”

Originally posted Monday, January 2, 2012

STILLBORN

   Unplanned surprise suddenly expecting.
We embraced the life that was growing within
      But God knew we would never
           hold this child in our arms
                                                           hear her laughter
                                                                                          see her smile.

We had moved our family, prepared a place
    in anticipation
                              of her arrival
         Only to find
She would never come home.

A child unborn
   Yet how deeply she moved our hearts.

I wonder sometimes as I look around
          Who is born and who is stillborn.
      Kicking and stretching – showing signs of life
Moving towards the moment of birth

           Jesus has gone to prepare a place
    for them
Yet they will never come home.

I understand now
  The tears we shed for our Bethany
       are but an echo of
           the tears our Lord sheds for

His Own
                    Stillborn.

 

This was written many years ago after we lost our daughter.

A Tajik Love Story

Best recollection of the story as told by Zhenya to Paul Hypki

Olga is from the northern part of Tajikistan, near Khujand, and Zhenya is from Dushanbe. Olga is a pretty blue-eyed blonde and Zhenya is a tall, handsome Korean man. They both attended a Bible League sponsored seminar on worship conducted by Dave and June Bullock several years ago and that’s where our story begins.
Zhenya and Olga

While at the seminar, Zhenya and Olga met and became acquainted. Zhenya decided he would like Olga’s address so he could perhaps get to know her better, so one day he sat in the same row of chairs as Olga. He handed the person next to him a piece of paper and asked him to write down his address. Then he asked that the sheet be passed on to get other people’s addresses – what a crafty man! After the seminar ended, they wrote each other a couple times and exchange photographs. Zhenya put Olga’s picture in the back of his Bible, but as time passed, life was busy and they both forgot about the other.

A year or so later, Zhenya began thinking it was time for him to get married. He began praying that God would show him who the right woman would be for him. He had determined a set of criteria that any woman would have to meet to be considered as a candidate for marriage. 1) She had to be a Christian. 2) She had to be serving in Christian ministry. 3) She had to like kids and youth. 4) He would really prefer it if she had blonde hair. 5) He would like her to have a good figure. 6) She should be two to three inches shorter than he is. He prayed for some time about finding a wife who met these criteria.

One day as he was praying for a wife, he opened his eyes, and there was the picture of Olga staring at him. It evidently had slipped out of the back of his Bible while he was praying. He looked at her picture. Was this God’s answer? He checked his criteria. Christian – yes; involved in ministry – yes; likes kids – yes; blonde hair – yes; a good figure – yes; a little shorter than he – yes. All six!

Zhenya send Olga a letter asking her if she was planning to attend the next Bible League seminar, but she was still in school and had exams that week, so she could not come. Zhenya was very disappointed – how was he going to ever see her again?

He decided not to attend the seminar, but then changed his mind at the last moment. He walked into the classroom, and there she was! He was amazed. So at one of the breaks, he approached her and said he had something serious to speak to her about. But Olga wasn’t feeling well and declined to talk to him. Now what?

The next day he tried again. Today Olga agreed to talk with Zhenya. He told her he had been praying for a wife and that he was wondering if she would consider dating him.
Now about the time Zhenya was praying for and saw Olga’s picture, her heart remembered and warmed to Zhenya. So when Zhenya asked her if she was interested in dating him, she immediately said yes. They spend the next few days as boyfriend and girlfriend, spending time together, holding hands, talking about their dreams. But, then the seminar ended. Olga went back home and back to school. This time they continued writing each other.

A short time later, Zhenya worked up the courage to visit her family to talk to her father. He was very worried. It is difficult enough for a young man to ask a man for his daughter in marriage, but he is Korean. What would Olga’s father think?

He arrived in Khujand and found Olga’s house. He had told Olga that he was coming, and Olga’s mother was glad to meet him. But her father was nowhere to be found. Zhenya waited and waited, but her father never came home. Zhenya left that evening very discouraged.

The next day Zhenya decided to try again, but this time he would come unannounced. He looked in the window, and there was Olga’s father, sitting in a chair watching television. Zhenya went around the back of the house and came in the kitchen. Olga and her mother coached him, encouraged him, and pushed him into the room with her father. Zhenya introduced himself. Olga’s father ignored him and continued watching TV. Zhenya tried several times to start a conversation, but Olga’s father just kept watching TV. Finally, Zhenya went back to the kitchen – “What am I supposed to do?” he pleaded. So they strategized in the kitchen and decided that all three of them would approach her father. They all entered the room where Olga’s father was sitting. Her mother turned off the TV. Zhenya explained his love for and desire to marry Olga.

Olga’s father wasn’t impressed. He told Zhenya he wasn’t sure and he would have to think about it. Zhenya explained that he loved Olga so much he would even consider eloping and marrying her without his blessing. But Olga’s father still need time to think about it.

Zhenya returned to Dushanbe, still without Olga’s father’s blessing. But Olga and her mother kept working on him and several days later, Olga’s father reluctantly agreed to allow Zhenya and Olga to marry.

In June 2005, Zhenya and Olga became man and wife. They are a beautiful couple, obviously very much in love with each other and the Lord Jesus.

Dad didn’t come to the ceremony – he’s still thinking about it.

Originally posted April 28, 2007

Dancing with your spouse

dancingpicture0002
Mary is on the left. 

My wife, Mary, and I started taking ballroom dance lessons a few months before my son, Peter’s wedding in October 2006. We enjoyed the lessons, had fun learning together and we have continued taking some lessons. We have also learned that dancing with your wife and living with your wife have some remarkable similarities.

We often read in the Bible that the man is the head and most teaching emphasizes that the wife must submit to the husband. In reality, the Bible teaches that the man must submit, too, but that’s another topic. So what have we learned in our dance classes?

First of all, dancing with someone takes a lot of work. Neither of us had a lot of experience dancing, but we had to start somewhere. They didn’t exactly paint big letters R and L on our shoes, but we sure spent a lot of time looking at our feet. We would learn some basic dance step, then practice it a million times, until we were adequate, then they would teach us a new dance step, and it felt like we were starting all over again! But we kept at it.

As happens when dancing with a partner, there are times I make a mistake, there are times when Mary makes a mistake, and there are times when we both mess up. But, oh, it so much fun when we both get it right and can actually dance well for a few minutes.

Then one night, Mr. Otero explained to us that when the man makes a mistake, it is the man’s fault. And when the woman makes a mistake, it is the man’s fault. This didn’t seem fair to me, but the man is responsible to properly lead the woman, and not allow her to make mistakes.
We also learned the proper way to start a dance. It’s not the caveman move, where the guy drags a woman where he wants her and starts dancing. The man asks the woman – the man is taking the initiative, but giving the woman the choice. Assuming she gives her consent, the man then escorts the woman to the floor, and the dancers get into position to dance. But the man is not allowed to begin dancing until the woman is ready, which she signifies by putting her left hand on the man’s right arm. Then the man has permission from her to start. And off you go!

The man is then expected to lead. If he wants the woman to spin around, he has to give her a signal, such as lifting her arm, which tells her what he would like her to do. If he wants to change direction, or perform some other turn, he is always communicating what he wants to her. The woman is expected to follow. I’m told that is not always the easiest thing to do. (Remember that Ginger Rogers did everything Fred Astaire did, except backwards and in heels!) It is especially difficult for the woman if the man is not giving a strong lead, communicating well or in a timely fashion what it is he would like the woman to do. Often the man is surprised that they actually completed the last move, and has not thought ahead far enough to know WHAT he wants to do next.

But over time, with lots of coaching, our dancing has improved significantly. We’re not great dancers, and never will be, but we have a solid foundation and enough confidence in our dancing together that we will actually dance in public!
So, do I even need to explain the correlations to marriage? Good communication, thinking ahead, mutual respect, willingness to accept blame, getting better over time. The most important thing we have found is that the more we practice, the better we get. The better we get, the more we enjoy it, and the more time we spend together dancing.

12822882-crazy-man-dancing
P.S. A couple weeks ago, we took a special group class with Tony Dovolani, who has been on the popular Dancing with the Stars television program. He basically taught us how to move our hips: it was good. But there was one comment he made that caught my attention. He asked, “When you are dancing, who is leading?” In unison, we all obediently said “The man leads.” Tony said, “No, that’s not right!” We were all stunned – we’ve always been told the man leads. Then Tony went on and said, “When you dance together, the man does not lead, the music does.”
The more I think about that the more I like this idea. Jesus is the song that rises up in my heart, but he is not just for me. He is the one that Mary and I both must stay in step with – together.
Originally posted August 24, 2008

The Clubhouse

So, our local baseball club has started the season 0 and 23. Every game has been lost by default, mainly because the team refuses to come out of the Clubhouse. I managed to visit the Clubhouse after their 23rd loss and talked with a few of the players.

Rog said that this was his first year on 0628_clubhouse21any Club. He was really excited to get into the game, but some of the guys who had been around for a while “showed him the ropes,” so he’s following their lead. Rog admitted that before the third game, he actually left the Clubhouse and made it all the way to the dugout, but then he saw all the people in the stands, and the opposing team looked pretty formidable. He noticed he was the only one in the dugout, so he headed back to the Clubhouse to be with his teammates.

Doc was really talkative and a really fun guy to have around. He plays a lot of practical jokes, and gets the guys to open up and talk. Doc makes the Clubhouse a fun place to be. The problem is Doc’s more of a night owl, and he often doesn’t get home until its getting light again, so Doc doesn’t even make it to the Clubhouse at all some days.

Ruben has been around for a while, and has some injuries that cause him a lot of pain. The whirlpool and massage just do wonders for him. So he will often come in and get his massage and spend some time in the whirlpool then catch a bite to eat before heading home.

Tank tells me the buffet they put out for the team is fantastic! He said he has never had such good food with any other team, that’s why he loves this Clubhouse so much! He has the menu memorized every day, and helped me get a plateful of food like I haven’t had in a long, long time. The lobster tail was amazing, and the Death by Chocolate mousse was top notch. Tank admitted he’s put on a few pounds since joining the Club, but assured me it was worth it.

I visited with a couple rookies in the film room. They were studying film, and picking apart the opposing pitchers in the league. They were able to point out subtle little things that these other players that were doing that were all wrong – if they ever faced them, they would be able to read the unwitting signals opposing players were giving, and just tear them to pieces. But they both said they needed to spend more time in the film room before they even thought about dressing for a game.tumblr_lu7m4hmcsq1qaqgclo1_500

Management brought in the best coaches available, modern equipment, all the resources this Club could ever need to win. I was really impressed with every person in this organization – they have great chemistry on this Club! This is a Club that wants to win, that has one of the best Clubhouses around, great coaching. And some day, when they take the field, they will be awesome!

The local church is our Clubhouse. It’s where we go to encourage one another. To learn. To heal. To rest.

But the local church is not why we are here. There is a game to be played; a battle to fight. And it’s not against another team, it’s against the evil spiritual forces that oppose God and his people. We are called to attend our local church so we can charge out of the Clubhouse, get on the field, and have a “winning season.” We won’t win every game, but we know in the end, the championship is secure.

Jesus Christ, God in a body, is the reason we gather. He is the reason we go out into a hostile world and share the gospel with those who have never heard. Or those who have heard and not yet understood. Or those who have been predisposed against the gospel and need to see it lived out before their very eyes. If we stay in the Clubhouse, we have missed the reason we are on this team.

We don’t get people to join the Club by inviting them into the Clubhouse. We get people to join the Club when they see what the Club does, how passionate the Club members are about what the Club is doing (living a life of worshiping God). The Club only has any impact when it is out on the playing field, doing what they are intended to be doing.

Each Club member is welcome in the Clubhouse any time, but the Clubhouse is not the most important place in the Club’s life. The Club needs to study the play book, to understand the fundamentals of the game. The Club needs to work out, to exercise, to practice on their own so they will be ready. Sometimes the Club will have meetings where more extensive training and instruction is given. They are expected to attend these training sessions and learn all they can to be better players.

We have one life. When we are with Jesus for eternity, we will no longer be able to engage in the sport of bringing people who are spiritually dead the Good News that Jesus is LIFE.

So go to your local “Clubhouse.” Spend some time there. And then get out and play ball!

Originally posted Sunday May 10, 2009